Cooking with San Sebastian Food – Basque Style
To be honest, I was a little nervous. I had signed up for an evening with San Sebastian Food to learn more about Basque cuisine. I knew that there was a strong influence of seafood, but in all honesty, I can be a little fussy about what I eat from the ocean!
I am not a big fan of my plate looking at me – something about my food watching me upsets my over active imagination and sends me into a guilt trip! How was I going to cope with the assortment of fish with faces that greeted the group as we entered the kitchen? Would the smell of all that seafood send me running from the restaurant? I have been known to have an oversensitive nose – even when the fish is at its freshest! With not one but 3 chefs standing before us, beaming with pride over the delicacies they were about to show us, I had to toughen up! This is Basque Country and fish is the feature of the night! It was time to face the fish!
I eased into it gently – a glass of wine and a few photos to mellow my concerns. Would I really be able to touch the squid? Would they be super slimy? Could I do it! Before long, I was right into it – fingers gently prodding inside the squid as I tried to remove the ink sack without bursting it. At the fish station, we learned about squid and choosing the freshest fish at the market, as well as scaling and preparing the fish for cooking.
I moved on from the fish to what I consider the heart of the kitchen – the grills and stove tops. Heady aromas of onions caramelizing on the stove, garlic in oil and the makings of a traditional Basque fish stew captured my attention. We were making 2 classic dishes – along with the fish stew was a thick black ink sauce that would be served with the grilled calamari. Another fish, to be served with a delectable salsa verde, was also on the grill – it was to be a feast of local cuisine!
The kitchen was hopping with excitement as everyone got involved in the various aspects of prep and cooking. A dash of paprika here, a slab of pork fat there, a splash of wine….dinner was coming together beautifully. The kitchen bubbled with the smell of garlic as it hit the hot oil, the fresh ingredients dancing in the pans as cooking entered the final stages. We finished with grilling local mushrooms for our appetizer. Served with the yolk of an egg, these mushrooms literally melted in our mouths…the creamy warmth of the yolk, rich and oh so decadent had us all diving in for seconds.
With the mushrooms gobbled up, the stage had been set for dinner. Our guide and translator showed us to our seats, and with wine for everyone, we enjoyed the fruits of our labour!
I found it quite fascinating to watch the magic in the kitchen – how seamlessly these professional chefs pulled everything together to create such a wonderful meal with a group of food enthusiasts throwing questions at them, getting involved in the process and taking a million photos (sorry about that – it was a treat every step of the way!!!). I will dream of having a kitchen like that at home.
Of course, location helps as the seafood is so fresh – a treat not possible for me at home! I will just have to come back. The experience was as amazing as the food. Everyone had the chance to get their hands dirty as squid ink was collected for the sauce and roasted red pepper pulp was gently collected for the stew – it was obvious that there is an element of love involved in Basque cooking as the pride and passion of the chefs was clearly evident in the enthusiasm they shared in their kitchen.
The next morning as I walked along the beach, I was talking to some fellow tourists and describing to them the experiences of the night before. They asked me how long the cooking class lasted and I could not remember. I had had too much fun to notice what time we caught the boat back to the wharf at the end of the night!
For more information about the Basque Culinary Experience with San Sebastian Foods, please visit their website at: San Sebastian Food.
(Ed note: I enjoyed the cooking experience so much, I wanted to sign up for more. Sadly, time did not permit it. I will have to save it for a return visit!)